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Early Teal Season in Wisconsin

Year 1 summary of 3 year


experimental season

Preface: This report was prepared as a general summary of early teal season operations,
staff observations and public feedback for the first year of a 3-year experimental hunting
season. It is intended to be used as a basis for internal and external communications as
well as refining future operations. More formal analyses are required by the US Fish and
Wildlife Service in another document to be prepared in cooperation with Iowa and
Michigan where experimental early teal seasons are being conducted concurrently.

Background:
Blue-winged teal are one of the most abundant and widely distributed ducks in North
America. Blue-winged teal migrate early in the fall, thus avoiding much of the shooting
pressure exerted during the regular duck season. In the 1960s the US Fish and
Wildlife Service allowed states in the Mississippi and Central flyways to experiment with
an early teal season that offered additional duck hunting days outside of the regular duck
season framework. Hunters were restricted to shooting only teal; blue-winged, greenwinged and cinnamon teal; but the focus in the Mississippi Flyway was primarily the
early migrating blue-winged teal. The Mississippi Flyway receives significant numbers
of teal that migrate southward in fall from prairie nesting areas as well as northern
Mississippi Flyway states.
This experimental season was intended to measure impacts to teal and non-target
waterfowl species. Results were mixed across states that did participate and after debate
among state and federal agencies involved, the decision was made that the production
states (WI, MN, MI and IA) within the Mississippi Flyway would not be allowed an early
teal season. However, when blue-winged teal seasons were high, nonproduction states
(the other 10 states in the Mississippi Flyway) would be offered an operational early teal
season. Production refers primarily to whether a state is a major breeding area for
mallards and other ducks. September teal seasons have been conducted in nonproduction states of the Central and Mississippi Flyways beginning in the mid 1960s, and have provided substantial opportunities for hunters. While Wisconsin
did not participate in the 1960s experimental season, each year special seasons were
allowed, some Wisconsin waterfowl hunters would complain that states to our south had
more duck hunting opportunity and asked the Wisconsin DNR to pursue an early teal
season.
The continental population of blue-winged teal has grown in recent years and a harvest
assessment completed by state and federal biologists in 2012 concluded that teal could
sustain higher harvest beyond that incurred during the regular duck season and the
existing early teal seasons. In addition, most continental duck populations are high to
very high compared to the last 50+ years. Following a series of meetings and
recommendations among states and the USFWS, it was decided that the four production
states would be offered a 3-year experimental teal season beginning in 2014. It is
important to understand that this is an experimental season, and the result of this
experiment will help decide whether a state is granted an operational early teal season.
The USFWS requires states to observe hunter behavior in the field to observe whether

they shoot at non-teal ducks during the teal only season. If the number of attempts to
shoot non-teal ducks is too high then Wisconsin would not meet the USFWS criteria for
an operational early teal season.
Public input and concerns:
During 2013 and early 2014, department staff were aware there was a possibility that
Wisconsin would be offered an early teal season but specific guidance from USFWS was
not available due to federal regulatory processes. Staff presented information in public
meetings, advisory committee meetings, special breakout sessions at the waterfowl
hunters conference and asked questions using the departments mail waterfowl hunter
survey. We received a mixed reaction to the idea of an early September teal season.
Those who were in favor of the season mentioned the additional hunting opportunity and
a chance to harvest blue-winged teal before they migrate south which is often before the
regular duck season opens. Those who did not favor an early teal season were concerned
that hunters would not be able to correctly identify the ducks, resulting in the harvest of
non-teal species. There were also concerns that an early season would disrupt the fall
staging behavior of ducks and detract from the regular duck season opener and negatively
impact the youth waterfowl hunt which is held in mid-September. In public meetings and
advisory committees, a variety of early teal season structure suggestions were made to
mitigate concerns over poor identification and negative impacts on the regular duck
season such as a season no more than several days and restricted shooting hours that limit
low light conditions.
By late March 2014, department staff had received additional details from USFWS, and
were certain that an early teal season would be offered to Wisconsin in 2014. The outside
limits of a teal season offered by the USFWS were a maximum of 16 days, 6 bird daily
bag limit and shooting hours that do not start before sunrise. A state could select season
parameters less than these maximums as appropriate to specific migration patterns and
relationship to other duck seasons.
Based on the public input received through early May, the department proposed the
following for an early teal season in Wisconsin for 2014:
o
o
o
o
o

Sept. 1-7 Experimental Early Teal Season;


Only blue-winged and green-winged teal can be harvested;
Daily bag limit of 6 teal;
Shooting hours on opening day begin at 9 am and close at 7 p.m.; and
Shooting hours from Sept. 2-7 begin at sunrise and close at 7 p.m.

This proposal considered new opportunities that excited some hunters, concerns related to
this new season brought forth by other hunters, and a wide range of suggestions offered
by the public over the last year.
Following development of the departments teal season proposal, it was posted on the
departments website May 16 along with information regarding four public hearings to be
held. Public input and participation was strongly encouraged. Information related to the

teal season proposals, methods to provide comments, and the public hearing information
was distributed to over 20,000 individuals on our waterfowl GovDelivery email lists, to
the departments partner organizations such as Wisconsin Waterfowl Association who in
turn shared it with their members and distributed a statewide press release.
Public input regarding the early season following the release of a specific proposal
continued to receive similar mixed reactions. Individual comments received via the
public hearings and through mail, email and phone contact were received, with 119 in
support of an early teal season, 88 opposed and three still undecided. A majority of
comments supported the other season parameters related to opening day, season length
and shooting hours.
Based on a majority of individual and group comments supporting an experimental early
teal season proposal, the department recommended adoption of the original proposal
outlined above to the Natural Resources Board at their June 25, 2014 meeting. The
proposal was a compromise among differing opinions, was responsive to expressed duck
identification concerns through a reduction in low-light hunting hours and allowed the
department to evaluate this new experimental season for the next three years as offered
by the USFWS.
Following Natural Resources Board approval June 25, department staff began an
information and education process to prepare hunters for this new season. A press
release was distributed on June 25 announcing the season and outlining season structure.
On June 26, an early teal season document was posted to the department webpage
highlighting the information behind the decision to have a season as well as the season
parameters. On July 1, staff posted a waterfowl identification slideshow and quiz to the
department webpage, which highlighted characteristic differences between duck species
that hunters would need to know during the early teal season. From the initiation of the
quiz and slideshow to the last date of the early teal season, 4,303 people accessed and
completed the quiz. The webpage that hosted the slideshow was viewed 37,800 times.
An article focusing on duck identification and participation in the early teal season was
published in the August edition of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. A Gov
Delivery email was sent Aug. 18 to over 20,000 duck and goose topic subscribers,
reminding people that the early teal season would begin Sept. 1. An Aug. 19 press
release announced an interactive online chat to discuss the early teal season among other
subjects. This informative chat was held Aug. 27 and 92 people participated, while 152
people viewed it at a later time. Throughout this entire summer period wildlife and
customer service staff were answering questions related to this new hunting opportunity.
Teal and hunter activity:
Based on information gathered from a teal observation team, statewide staff, and hunter
reports, both teal availability and hunter participation were variable during the early teal
season. Blue-winged teal were more abundant in Wisconsin in early September than
green winged teal although a few locations reported a relatively high proportion of green-

winged teal. Staff observations of teal abundance ranged from didn't see a teal to
large numbers of teal observed with upwards of 1000 teal and I have never seen so
many teal in my life 100s upon 100s. For the first two days of the early teal season,
teal abundance was highest in southeast Wisconsin, moderate in other eastern areas and
northwest Wisconsin, and low along the Mississippi River, northern and central
Wisconsin. Local movements and longer distance teal migration was evident during the
7-day teal season and into the week following the close of the teal season as teal
abundance shifted around the state. Migration of blue-winged and green-winged teal out
of and into Wisconsin is common throughout September.
Hunter surveys from last winter indicated that about 40% of Wisconsins approximately
80,000 waterfowl hunters indicated that they would be likely to participate in a teal
season while 16% were unsure. Similar to teal abundance, observations of waterfowl
hunter abundance during the early teal season were also quite variable.
Staff observations ranged from: Lots of interest. More hunters for teal season this year
(good water) than we had for the normal waterfowl opener last year (dry); to a staff
person that went to three public hunting areas in that county which are normally busy
during the regular duck season, but were devoid of hunters in the early teal season. The
2014 season opened on Sept.1 (Labor Day) and closed Sunday, Sept. 7. Reports
indicated that most hunter activity occurred on Sept. 1 and decreased as the week
progressed.
Hunter observations by the teal observation team:
USFWS offered a new experimental teal season to the four northern states in the
Mississippi Flyway in 2014 for a 3 year trial. Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan accepted
this season, but with different season structures. Minnesota declined participation, citing
a lack of public input on whether hunters wanted an early teal season. The USFWS
developed agreements with the three participating states, which approved the
experimental seasons and required state agencies to conduct hunter observations.
Observers recorded hunter behavior in relation to flights of different duck species as they
participated in the early teal season to measure the potential impact of target and nontarget harvest on various duck species. The USFWS established criteria that this group of
3 states must meet after collecting these data for 3 years in order to be approved for an
operational early teal season. Requirements for hunter observations for the three new
Mississippi Flyway states in 2014 were the same standards and observation protocols
used for all other states that were granted teal seasons over the last 40+ years.
Based on these prior studies, USFWS predicted that the three states would need to
collectively observe 180 hunting parties over the 3 year experimental season in order to
gather sufficient data and meet the statistical confidence required for the observations.
This breaks down to about 20 hunting parties observed per year in Wisconsin. However,
the department set a goal to collect twice that many per year in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, a team of 28 wildlife biologists and wardens was recruited and trained to
conduct hunter observations at representative locations around the state. The team used
staff knowledge of teal habitat and past hunter behavior to select sites representative of
opportunities throughout Wisconsin. Prior to the teal season, all observers attended a
training workshop and learned the protocol established by USFWS. Observers were
located in areas hunters were likely to frequent while maintaining coverage throughout
the state. Parties were observed by DNR staff at hunting location by posing as another
hunting party or gaining an undetected vantage point. Ducks that flew within range of
the party were identified, counted, and recorded in addition to the number of shots fired
and birds that were hit.
During Wisconsins 7 day experimental early teal season, 44 hunts were successfully
observed by the observation team according to USFWS protocols. Michigan and Iowa
had similar efforts at observing teal season hunters with 44 observed hunts during
Michigans 7 day season and 72 hunts observed during Iowas 16 day season. Wisconsin
observers recorded 267 flocks within range of hunting parties, of which 37% were teal.
Other species observed within range consisted of wood ducks (32%) and mallards (25%).
After a review of observation data; 86% of observed hunting parties were in complete
compliance with the species harvest regulations. These parties had opportunities to shoot
at non-teal ducks within range, but never fired a shot. In some cases, these parties had
several to as many as 22 opportunities to harvest non-teal flocks. It was clear that some
hunters not only passed on non-teal ducks but were being very cautious and passed on
teal flocks to be certain that they did not make a mistake. About 7% of the observed
parties appeared to be trying to follow the regulations because they passed on non-teal
flocks within range during the observed hunt but before the days hunting was over they
shot at a non-teal duck. Finally, about 7% of the hunters appeared to be individuals that
were either very careless or simply had no intention of following the regulations since
they appeared to be indiscriminately shooting at birds that flew within range. These
results are only the first of a 3 year experimental season so should be viewed with caution
but the initial results are generally positive. Duck numbers, migration and weather can
vary each year and have impacts on the results of such observations so a 3 year trial
period will help account for this annual variation.
Public reaction/input:
There was no official department solicitation of input from the public during or following
the early teal season. However, the department plans to conduct a scientifically designed
hunter survey after 2-3 years of the experimental season. In 2014, a number of hunters
offered input via phone calls, email and letters. The department welcomes these contacts
and appreciates information that can lead to a good understanding of hunter experiences,
addressing any observed problems and building on successes.
A total of 35 emails and letters were submitted by duck hunters during and following the
teal season as well as four phone calls offering observations, opinions and suggestions to
the waterfowl program. Contacts were overwhelmingly positive, with 29 of 39

communications received expressing thanks and positive experiences from the hunting
season. This is rather unusual, since many unsolicited comments from individuals are
often negative.
Negative comments regarding the early teal season were received primarily after the first
few days of the season, sharing observations of hunters who may have shot non-teal
ducks or that the writer saw mostly non-teal ducks so feared that they would be shot
accidently or intentionally by others. Some also expressed concern that this early season
was going to change duck behavior and have a negative impact on the regular duck
season.
Positive comments were mainly received in the form of thank you for the new season
and shared personal positive experience participating in the early teal season. Some
shared photos of happy and successful teal hunters. One hunter that emailed was from
Minnesota and wanted to share that he purchased an out-of-state license to hunt the early
teal season because Minnesota did not have the season. Another hunter, a Wisconsin
resident who had hunted the early teal season in Illinois for several years, wanted to share
that he stayed in Wisconsin to hunt this year because we had provided the opportunity.
The public comments confirmed staff observations that both teal presence and hunter
participation was variable across the state from high to low. Positive emails included
opinions for and against the scheduled shooting hours and some asked for the season to
either be longer than seven days or begin a little later in September. Some noted that
while hunting they did not see any hunters shoot at non-teal ducks. Several of both the
positive and negative correspondence noted confusion with the proper shooting hours
during the teal season with hunters shooting too early or too late.
Additional staff input:
Information from wildlife managers and wardens from around the state was received
regarding activity and observations during the teal season. From a hunting and public
property management perspective the season was implemented smoothly. Considerable
statewide communication efforts seemed successful in minimizing calls to local wildlife
staff with questions related to the season. The high density use issues that occur on some
properties during the regular duck season were not evident in the early teal season.
In addition to the wardens who were a part of the teal season observation team, DNR
staff around the state worked the early teal season and responded to concerns and
violations. Statewide, citizens made a total of 30 law enforcement hotline calls reporting
observations of violations during the early teal season with most reports relating to
shooting early or late and shooting at non-teal ducks.
Wardens received additional in-field complaints. The majority of non-target species that
were shot at were mallards and wood ducks, which corresponds to their relative
abundance in early September since they are local breeders in Wisconsin. Wardens
responded to calls and issued warnings or citations as appropriate - a preliminary citation
summary is provided in the table below. The take/attempt to take game birds out of
season represents situations where a hunter shot or shot at a non-teal duck and the hunt

before or after hours relates to the confusion regarding restricted shooting hours for the
teal season. In several cases, 2-3 citations were issued to one individual or one hunting
party/event. Types of citations listed below are the same types of violations seen during
the regular duck season.

Preliminary Violations Summary (early teal season citations only):


VIOLATION
Take/ attempt to take migratory game
birds during the closed season or take
protected birds
Hunt before or after hours
Unplugged firearm
Lead Shot
Hunt w/o license or stamp
Open Water Hunting
Fail to retrieve game
Hunt from a motorboat/ rallying
Possess or transport loaded gun in a
motorboat
Other misc.

# of Citations
29

13
4
6
5
2
1
1
3
2

Conclusions and adjustments after year 1:


Various sources of information on the early teal season indicate that the first year of this
experimental season was successful in providing additional hunting opportunity for
Wisconsins waterfowl hunters. Most of those who participated were highly motivated
and looking forward to future early teal opportunities, regardless of success in 2014.
Waterfowl hunters had some unique opportunities including family based and youth
hunting experiences which are likely related to warmer weather conditions. The overall
availability of teal and hunter activity was quite variable across the state. Most hunting
occurred on the first day of the season and declined during the next seven days, although
some hunters reported new teal migrating into the state during these seven days and just
following the seasons close. Some hunters who enjoyed the season would like to see the
season extended to include more days and/or less restricted shooting hours.
There are many other Wisconsin outdoor recreationists out in early September from wild
rice harvesters to water skiers, but no conflicts were reported between these users and
early teal season duck hunters.
Most waterfowl hunters observed in the special observation project did not shoot at the
wrong duck species, showing restraint or correctly identifying the ducks. The monitoring

and analysis of observations of early teal season hunters is being coordinated with the
states of Michigan and Iowa. These will be reported to the Mississippi Flyway Council
and the USFWS at the conclusion of the 3 year experimental period for final conclusions.
Citizens, wardens and teal season observers reported a scattering of different violations
by teal hunters around the state. The two most common complaints were shooting early
or late and shooting at the wrong duck species. Some hunters remain concerned that the
early teal season will impact duck behavior for the later waterfowl seasons (youth and
regular), although wildlife staff did not see any clear evidence of this around the state.
Since teal and other ducks regularly migrate as well as make short distance movements in
the month of September, clear evidence of any impact is unlikely.
With regard to the hunters shooting at the wrong species, it did not appear that a large
number of responsible hunters were making mistakes in identification. Hunters
attempting to follow the early teal season regulations were mostly successful. However,
there were hunters out during the early teal season appeared to show little regard for the
regulations so an enforcement presence in the future will be important. This is a work
load challenge, since the early teal season is scheduled in early September when DNR
wardens are active monitoring many other outdoor activities. The issue of shooting
before or after legal shooting hours appeared to be at least in part because of confusing
regulations and the lack of a special regulation brochure for the early seasons. To address
this issue, the department is working on a plan for an early season brochure where the
early goose, early teal and mourning dove hunting seasons can be addressed in one
document that clearly spells out the different regulations for these concurrent seasons.
Finally, the department will continue to work with our partners to offer resources for
improved duck identification to minimize errors in duck identification.